Reading the scriptures on a daily basis is a commitment many in our community try to maintain. However, this positive routine can so easily become an empty ritual, producing a subconscious feeling that, whether we continue or not, it does not really make much difference. On the contrary, regular exposure to the word of God should make a great deal of difference to our attitude and the way we live our life. The scriptures present us with the profound choice: are we going to serve God or not?
A classic example is to be found in the covenant made at Shechem prior to the death of Joshua: “And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God” (Josh. 24:1). Joshua then proceeded to recall in detail the history of the nation: the call of Abraham and the promises, the deliverance from Egypt, the trials of the wilderness journey and the destruction of their enemies leading to the possession of the land of Canaan. They were reminded of the Lord’s compassion and mercy constantly bestowed upon Israel irrespective of their persistent disobedience and rejection.
Serve the Lord in sincerity and truth
Joshua, knowing from first-hand experience the fickleness of the people, virtually pleads with them: “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord!” (Josh. 24:14, NKJ). Joshua, being a realist, had serious misgivings about their loyalty; why else was it necessary for him to make the dramatic statement:
And if it seems evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).
The time had come to make a choice: either they would serve the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, or turn their backs upon Him in favor of idols carved out by the hands of men.
Such forthright speaking brought forth the spirited response: “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods…” (v. 16). Yet their righteous indignation was superficial, for even then the people still secretly yearned for other gods in their hearts. This is why Joshua dismissed their initial avowal: “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God…”(v. 18) as half-hearted window dressing.
God requires commitment
This would not do. God desires full commitment by those who worship Him and His holiness will not tolerate rivals. Hence the reply:
Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If you forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good (vs. 19-20).
Obviously this really shook the people, causing them to evaluate their vulnerable position. So when Joshua continued: “Put away foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel,” their response came loud and clear: “The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice we will obey” (vs. 23-24).
Aware of his impending death, Joshua realized that the people would soon forget their pledge of dedication. As a witness and memory aid to the newly-made covenant, he erected a great stone by the sanctuary of the Lord. Did this covenant make a difference to the attitude and behavior of God’s chosen people? Sadly the answer is a resounding, No! After the death of Joshua, the nation turned away again to become engrossed in the evils of idolatry.
The chief corner stone
We come each week to remember the stone that was not laid beside the sanctuary, but the one who became an essential part of the building itself, the chief corner stone of the spiritual house of God. The Lord brought us out of the darkness of Egypt and demonstrated His goodness towards us in so many ways. Yet, in common with erring Israel, we often have one foot in each camp, reaching out eagerly to the things of the world, feeling that a brief encounter will not really make a difference to our devotion to God. Interestingly, if we are challenged, we protest readily: “Far be it from me that I should stray from the ways of the Lord!” When this happens, we should remember the admonition of Joshua and rededicate ourselves whole-heartedly to serving our God in “sincerity and truth” (Josh. 24:14).
Our great leader, the antitype of Joshua, warned against the ubiquitous idol of riches: “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). How easy it is to give lip service to this principle, while devoting our time to earning more money to furnish our homes with the latest fashion or technology. There should be no happier group of people than those in our community who have the privilege of serving the one who is our peace and upon whose strength we depend. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28).
The source of happiness
Ecclesial happiness and strength is something that we gain from serving the Lord, standing together on common ground that has strong deep foundations that cannot be moved. Let us not squander away the opportunity to meet regularly with our brothers and sisters to worship and receive the message of hope and edification. We all need to draw upon the collective strength of fellowship, prayers, scriptural admonition and the raising of our voices with the songs of Zion.
Our commitment to Christ commences from the time that we rose from the waters of baptism and must continue until we put off this earthly tabernacle. Therefore, we must not allow the mundane things of everyday life to interfere with our walk toward His kingdom. Celebrating with enthusiasm the good things of life with friends of the world, but finding it an effort to be present to celebrate the life of the Lord is demonstrating a double standard. Working all week for natural food and being too tired to receive spiritual food on Sunday morning shows a marked lack of appreciation. The apostle Paul puts everything into perspective: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more as you see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
We are poised on the edge of the promised land and must make up our minds to give our life whole-heartedly to the work of the Lord, setting aside the interests of everyday life which can so easily separate us from God. Let us echo the words of Joshua: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).
From servant to friend
No doubt Joshua took strength from the example of faith exemplified by Abraham, the progenitor of Israel who was called the friend of God: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God” (Jam. 2:23).
We, being related to Abraham through faith in the promises of God, have the opportunity of being called friends by the Lord Jesus himself. If our focus is to serve him with the best of our ability, striving to put aside the things the world has to offer, then amazingly, our status is changed. From being servants we become friends of the Son of God: “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (Jn. 15:15).
Having been enlightened to the will and purpose of God through the ‘word made flesh,’ it must be our goal to serve him faithfully. Serving our Lord and Master is much more than lip service; it requires us to put our faith into action. Jesus qualifies this: “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (Jn 15:14). Of course the reason that we are here this morning is in obedience to his command: “This do in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19).
Joshua presented the Israelites with a choice between serving the gods of this world or the Lord of all the earth. Sadly, many of them could not discern the difference. For us the difference is obvious and vital. It is the choice between light and darkness, life or death.
Reuben Washington, Echo Lake, New Jersey